by Katherine Sutcliffe, historical (2004)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-1198-6

When I first read the prequel to Obsession, Devotion, I actually didn't worry too much about the ending. I close the book thinking that it is quite obvious that the hero Trey Hawthorne will run after that idiot heroine Maria Ashton and they will live happily ever after. It is only after I go online that I realize how many readers dislike Devotion and its open-ended ending. I don't know if Ms Sutcliffe intends to write a sequel to Devotion all along or she decides to do so after receiving angry letters from fans. I do know though that I find Obsession an unnecessary sequel. If anything, I cannot really get into this book at all.

In Devotion, Trey Hawthorne, the Duke of Slutterdon, sorry, Salterdon, is the typical bad rake incarnate. He fell in love with Maria Ashton, whose sole qualities can be boiled down to her child-like innocence and a truly exasperating tendency for her to martyr herself. By the last page, the evil grandmother of Trey manages to drive Maria away and Trey, after a confrontation with Evil Granny, vows to look for that silly girl. The end.

Obsession begins around three years after Devotion. Trey is unable to find Maria so now he decides to marry Edwina Rhodes, a rich and thrice-divorced woman pregnant with another man's child but in love with Trey, for her money and for her reputation that will really make Evil Granny angry. But at the last moment, Trey learns that his Evil Granny has incarcerated Maria in a lunatic asylum all along. He leaves Edwina at the altar to find Maria, only, alas, Maria is now flying with the angels of cuckooland. Can Trey help Maria regain her sanity? Will Maria want him back? What nefarious plans will Evil Granny and Edwina come up with next?

Now, let me say that Katherine Sutcliffe is a good storyteller. Even when she's plunging her story into the most melodramatic twists and turns ever, Ms Sutcliffe has a style and verve in her prose that always hook me into the story and keep me reading. This author has written her share of Evil Harlots and Evil Mothers/Grannies, but while other authors may make me grit my teeth at their using such plot devices, Ms Sutcliffe manages to entertain me nonetheless. The author has an engaging and lively bombastic style of writing that I like, and I'm not surprised to learn that she has worked as a consultant head writer for soap operas like As The World Turns. Unfortunately, her bombastic style doesn't work at all in Obsession. This story is told mostly from Trey's point of view (the "I" in the story being Trey, that is). In this book, Trey's "voice" is far from masculine. In fact, he comes off like a drama queen half the time.

Another big problem I have with this book is how Trey and Maria are so determined to make martyrs out of themselves that they don't talk when they have the chance. I really cannot stand Maria in Devotion because she is so unbelievably dense and so easily manipulated into playing the martyr by the bad guys, and here, she is no different. Trey also wants to desperately atone for his sins that he often chooses the path most difficult for his choices and decisions. Along the way, Edwina and the Evil Granny still manage to cause trouble. I don't understand why nobody has kicked that Evil Granny to the curb by now. Trey keeps whining that he is the baddest, meanest dude in the land, so the least he could have done is to press a pillow over that nasty old bitch's face. Trust me, that is one Evil Granny that deserves to swallow a pillow and this story would have been so much more easier on my blood pressure if Trey is more bite than bark.

With an unconvincing male voice in the story and two very frustrating martyrs stuck in a plot that becomes more and more melodramatic as the pages turn, Obsession nonetheless remains very readable, especially after Maria regains her senses to act stoopid some more. While Trey and Maria do too many stupid things, the author still manages to introduce very well some interesting issues of forgiveness and heartbreak in Maria's journey to catch up with the people she knows and cares for. If Ms Sutcliffe has toned down her characters' martyr-complex, her very engaging voice will easily make this book a campy pleasure to read.

Oh, and in case I haven't made it clear, readers should read Devotion before starting on Obsession. It can stand alone if the reader is patient enough to analyze the story and join the dots, but it will be so much easier to start with Devotion first and then move on with Obsession.

Rating: 74

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